I’ve been working on copy related to researching ancient history and wisdom lately. This spurs thoughts. Thoughts and I are like a runaway train — once I get going, I keep moving. Which is why I’m spewing out blogs at an unnatural rate for someone who really doesn’t have much time for blogging. It’s also due to a lot of events, trauma and emotional upheaval in the past couple of months, as well as meetings spurring thought. You can’t always spew your thoughts out at the poor people who instigated them. But I tend to chew over what people say. Particularly if it relates to a problem. And I have to unload somewhere. This is my unloading place. The place where I dump my thoughts. Sometimes unceremoniously, sometimes with a lot of bravado. I like entertainment, after all. Which is why I apply outrageous headlines and a lot of humor from time to time.
So this time it’s about Socrates. He asked questions. I’ve been thinking about that lately as someone told me they don’t like taking direction. Good philosophers, psychologists, coaches and leaders ask questions. They let people reach their own conclusions. Often they may guide them towards answers, rather than asking questions they have no clue where they will lead, but still: they ask questions.
Since I was a kid, I’d analyze people. Whether intuitively, intellectually, or both. Then I’d randomly blurt out my conclusions: often a pain point and its potential solution.
Then I studied acting and directing: I learned to break down scripts so as to figure out the thoughts behind the characters’ actions. From there I learned to break down the characters so as to be able to recreate their pasts that had led to these thoughts.
Through all of this I learned not just to understand others, but to understand myself. I understood the thoughts we think, where they come from and why we think them. Hence, I came to understand why I have the emotions I have. It’s due to my thoughts. However, it did not teach me how to change them. Not really.
While awareness tends to lead to a level of change, it doesn’t change everything. Being aware of a destructive pattern AND why you formed it, isn’t necessarily enough to change it.
You have to be willing to face yourself and the pain that comes with that to create change, but while that may help you let go of some things, it doesn’t change everything. Until you face something, you keep it bottled up. That means it’s still there. People are scared of facing pain, but by suppressing it they actually cause so much more pain, because they don’t let it go.
I always imagine this as a house: if something bad happens you let in a storm wind. You can try and contain that wind in one room by locking it in. Preferably far away from you, so maybe in the basement. But the wind is still rattling around in there. If you open the door to the basement and then to the garden, you’ll face the wind, you’ll feel its destructive force, but then it is released. It’s gone.
On the flip side of the coin, some people get stuck and revel in their own past/pain and, thus, also get stuck in it.
The thing is, releasing pain isn’t always enough. Because it’s usually attached to a coping mechanism that causes havoc. For example, when I get stressed I read, or binge watch netflix to escape from my own thoughts, but when I wake up the next day I have even more stress because instead of dealing with my to-do list, I was lost in a story.
If I’d taken ten minutes to meditate, or go for a walk, to deal with my stress and then tackled the to-do list, I’d been much further along and had LESS stress the next day.
In other words, you have to replace a dysfunctioning pattern with a functioning one. Let’s say someone overeats. They face the pain that is causing them to choose unhealthy and too much food to numb their pain. They’re willing to let go of their pain. But if they have no idea of what healthy foods are, or how to eat healthily (such as eating before your blood sugar tanks), they may very well not function properly anyway.
Plus, even if you let go of pain, stress, or whatever else is causing you inner turmoil, you’ll always face it again. And either you’ll relapse into the dysfunctional pattern to relieve your anguish, or you’ll use another one.
As Russell Brand said in his book Recovery: someone told him heroin saved his life. It was his coping mechanism. But it was a coping mechanism that was killing him, as well as destroying his social life, finances and work. Dealing with whatever made him use heroin in the first place AND finding better coping mechanisms led to him becoming clean. And as he also said: if a heroin addict can do it, so can you. That gave me hope. Because we all have unhealthy patterns, be it around finances, eating, drinking, work, exercise, relationships, or whatever else it may be.
My point though, is that my sterile approach in the past of serving people uncomfortable truths doesn’t work, beyond a possible wakeup call. You have to direct them towards something else. And love is the bridge to that.
Alan Kazdin, of the Yale Parenting Center, has, through studies around the world, come to the conclusion that punishment does little to facilitate change. Disregarding bad behavior, or giving someone a small consequence, while paying a lot of attention to and encouraging good behavior, leads to the biggest changes in a child. He even does things like workshopping tantrums. If a child throws severe tantrums, hitting adults, etc. he workshops the child through tantrums where it doesn’t hit, then praises that. He replaces one behavior with another and the bridge is love and encouragement from the parent. Once you’ve locked down having a “normal” tantrum, you can move onto having less of a tantrum, no tantrum and doing really well.
You replace one dysfunctional coping mechanism with a less dysfunctional coping mechanism until you can get to a great coping mechanism. One that actually helps you face the real problem. Such as how to handle distress.
Positive reenforcement has been used with great results on addicts, as well as in the workplace. It makes sense. When people resent you, they’re not very willing to do something that pleases you. The more you nag, punish and degrade, the less they will be willing to do what you want them to do. Also, the more you look down on them and punish them, the more you encourage their self-hatred and destructive patterns.
Actions have consequences. That needs to be shown. But giving attention to negative behavior and punishing it does not change the behavior.
Knowing this doesn’t always mean you can implement it. I failed in my own home. I raise a child on the autism spectrum who has PDA. He’s violent. He’s abusive. I was at the point where I was spending money I didn’t have to have nannies 24/7 as it wasn’t possible to be alone with him. And I was furious with myself because I reacted to his behavior, but imagine waking up to a child who is verbally and physically abusive 50% of the time and you never know when you’ll be hit next. And I didn’t have a controlled environment. He started attaching the neighbors children, his siblings, the dogs, the furniture and me.
When my child’s anxiety kicks in, and it’s been high lately, he tries to control his environment with violence. This is a destructive coping mechanism. PDA lends itself to this kind of aggressive behavior, but he was further raised in a house with his biological family where there was domestic violence and so his behavior is on another level.
I’ve now had to temporarily place him with his grandmother and a number of other people living in that household, and put professionals in place on top of the psychologists to try to help him to the point where it’s possible to have him at home again. This isn’t ideal, but neither I, nor his siblings, could live in fear anymore. Understanding and therefore loving someone doesn’t mean you can handle their abuse, or control your own emotions when subjected to it. And I’ve been all over looking for help from social services, schools, therapists…the list goes on. I wanted a controlled environment for him where Kazdin’s methods could be implemented but I can’t find one. And I’m out of money for having nannies 24/7 and even with that in place the situation was horrible. When I had a stomach bug and fever last weekend the toddler concerned asked me if his brother had “broken my head,” because of the violence. He had already moved to his grandmother at this point, but that alone was a horrifying thing to hear a toddler say.
I’ve had hell with the situation at home and I’ve felt ashamed about it too. I was caught in a catch 22 where we I couldn’t give up on the child, nor expose myself or his siblings to abuse. Plus not having the finances to, you know, ship Alan Kazdin over. In the end myself, his nannies and psychologist worked out a plan forward. I do think it’s important to talk about these things. Because what I experienced at home with a child, some experience with an adult.
This kind of coping mechanism (trying to control your environment using violence) is different from coping mechanisms to deal with inner pain from past trauma, current emotional stress, etc. in that it is a form of manipulation. This person isn’t just trying to handle their inner distress, but the distress they feel relating to people. Other coping mechanisms related to controlling relationships might be anger, extreme helplessness, crying hysterically, bullying, hiding away, pleasing, or threats to leave or stop loving someone. None is healthy. Expressing how you feel and learning to also see past your emotions, is a lot healthier. For example, my child fears not being loved to the point where he can’t handle any attention given to any other child. But he is loved. His emotions, based on his interpretations of past and present experiences, are telling him he isn’t though. And he acts on those emotions. They aren’t real, but he thinks they are. He’s created a world where he thinks he’s unloved and does anything to prove it to be true.
Till this day I still have a hard time not telling people what their thoughts are, why they’re acting the way they’re doing, and to sort their shit out. Or what their patterns and coping mechanisms are and to sort their shit out. But it doesn’t work beyond the initial wakeup call. For some that might be enough, just as being thrown in a prison cell may be enough to wake someone up. But as Socrates discovered so long ago, you often get further by asking questions than spelling things out. And as Kazdin discovered, behavior isn’t changed by telling someone what’s wrong, but by showing them what’s right. By encouraging them and making them feel good doing the right thing. This, in turn, will help them love themselves, which I think, really, is the cornerstone of great behavioral patterns. Because once you love yourself, you act in ways that serve you and others.
Speaking of which: most forms of depression spring from an obsession with self; an obsession with some dysfunctional, or painful part of self. Once we stop thinking about ourselves and only focus on serving others, we forget to be depressed, because we aren’t obsessing about what we should achieve, or what others think about us. We’re too busy helping someone else. That’s another way, I suppose, of changing behavior.
For that matter, this blog is a coping mechanism for me to deal with my thoughts and emotions and I think it’s distracted me enough from work this week. It’s starting to move towards being dysfunctional.
On that note my darlings, it’s time to stop writing.
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